Ancient Forest Discovered – Underwater!

Depending on whom you believe, the ancient and legendary city of Atlantis was forever lost beneath the waves after a volcano, war, or dust-up between the gods, and its disappearance gave rise to centuries of speculation, storytelling, and exploration.  If an entire civilization may be lost beneath the waves, why not a forest? 

cypress_by godutchbaby FCC
Photo by Godutchbaby, Flickr Creative Commons.

Fifty thousand years ago, the earth was cooler than it is today (man-made climate change notwithstanding), and because so much of the world’s water was frozen in glaciers, the sea was much lower than we see it now.  On a flat plain on what is now the ocean floor near the coast of Alabama, a great and ancient forest of bald cypress grew, dominating their place and time as our redwoods do here and now (and indeed, they’re related!).  As the Earth began to warm and the glaciers to melt, low-lying coastal areas began to first flood, then fill, and finally disappeared beneath the waves. With the land went all of the plants that grew upon it, including the mighty cypress trees.  Once sunken, the trees were preserved against the fungi and creatures that would digest and decompose them, and have since lain where they once stood.  Today, the forest is again teeming with life, its birds and beetles replaced with fish and crabs, its shrubs and flowers with clams and anemones.

Not only sea life but scientific researchers have taken an interest in the forest.  As cypress trees can live more than a thousand years, the rings in their wood could provide a unique perspective into the ancient climate, and help us to understand how our actions today affect the climate of the future. 

Avatar for Richard Campbell

About the author

Richard joined the League’s staff in 2012 as the Conservation Science Manager and now serves as Director of Restoration. He brings nearly a decade of experience in forest management and restoration.

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One Response to “Ancient Forest Discovered – Underwater!”

  1. Tali Berzins

    Excellent article. Loved it!


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